December 29, 2015

Movie Review: Starwars - The Force Awakens **1/2

The Force Awakens is 2 hours and 16 minutes long, about two hours longer than necessary.
The beginning is hokey and overly-dramatic, an homage to the original, which is 30 years old, and it feels like it; the music, the slanted, scrolling text...old, old, old. I suppose that's what most people like about it. But those early minutes are a yawn; characters I didn't care about, nothing exceptional happening, not enough tension, excruciatingly slow. If you need a nap you can snooze through the first hour and you won't really miss anything.
The critics are going easy on this film, out of a sense of nostalgia, I think - certainly not for excellence in film making.
It's beautifully filmed, and Daisy Ridley's performance is excellent, and I loved Adam Driver as the evil Ren. It's fun seeing Harrison Ford in this role after all these years, and he looks great but his performance is unexceptional. Carrie Fisher can barely move her mouth after all the cosmetic surgery, so it's hard to watch her, and she really has nothing to do here. If she hadn't been in the original we'd have to wonder how this actor ever got hired.
My favorite line of the film: Han Solo sees Princess Leia (now a general) for the first time in years and says, "You changed your hair." Good one.
Mark Hamill has about 3 minutes in this film, and no lines, which is probably a good thing.
If you can stay awake for the first hour and a half, you'll probably enjoy the rest of the film.
Two and a half stars out of five for Starwars: The Force Awakens.

December 21, 2015

Movie Review: The Big Short ****1/2

Half the time I had no idea what the hell they were talking about in this film, even when Anthony Bourdain or Salena Gomez were explaining it (which is a very funny device), and so it made me feel pretty stupid. But I loved it anyway.
Steve Carrell is a really fine actor. And even though he received an Oscar nomination for his role in Foxcatcher, I think he hasn't gotten the recognition that is due him because he's done so much comedy. But his role in Foxcatcher was  the beginning of acknowledgement, and in The Big Short, as Mark Baum, you will see again what a natural actor he is. He is eminently believable and authentic.
Christian Bale is a little weird in his role. Too extreme, for my taste. I love Ryan Gosling (although I hate his dyed black hair), and all the guys who were Mark Baum's team. But who impresses me the most is a guy named Jeremy Strong. Terrific performance; subtle, real.
Go see The Big Short. Maybe you can explain it to me. But even if you can't I'm pretty sure you'll be glad you saw it.
Four and a half stars out of five for The Big Short.   

December 17, 2015

Movie Review: The Danish Girl **

There's much Oscar buzz about Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Danish Girl, and he's already received a Golden Globe nomination, but really, he's not all that good here - certainly no comparison to his performance last year as Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
I was so bored by The Danish Girl. I couldn't count the number of times I looked at my watch. Everything you might want to know is in the trailer, so if you've seen that then save your money.
I didn't care about Einar Wegenar (Eddie Redmayne's character), altho I cared a lot about his wife; I empathized with and was engaged by Alicia Vikander's performance, which I found authentic. Eddie Redmayne, on the other hand, is not believable as a man in the 1930s who's caught in a woman's body. One day he puts on a dress and voila! he thinks he's a woman.
Nothing about the way this story is told rings true. All of Redmayne's emotion is conveyed through facial twitching and vamping; neither of which will win any awards. But that's just my humble opinion (watch him win another Oscar and prove me wrong).
Go see this film and let me know what you think.
Two stars out of five for The Danish Girl. 

November 28, 2015

Movie Review: Too many movies, too little time...

A few of the movies I've seen in recent weeks.

Spotlight *****
Great acting, great story, lots of tension, characters you root for...this film has it all.
5 stars out of 5 for Spotlight.

Trumbo **
Very disappointing. Interesting story, good performance from Bryan Cranston, not so good performance from Diane Lane (who didn't have much to work with). I didn't know a lot of what went on with the blacklist, only from history, so it was fascinating from that point of view. But this script has no tension, no characters who seem in dire straits, no one to root for. You watch with a sense that everything will turn out fine. Which, mostly, it does.
Also, a little preachy.
2 stars out of 5 for Trumbo.

Room *****
Brie Larson is a wonderful actor. I loved her in The United States of Tara - she was a presence I knew I would see in the future. She's a natural.
It takes too long to get this mom and son out of "the room" but once they do the story begins in earnest.
I tried to read the book this film was based on and didn't get very far, but I thought it would make a good film, and it does. Which is unusual, when the film is better than the book.
The humanity of the story comes when they have to live in a world they've never known.
Great performances.
5 out of 5 stars for Room.

The Martian *****
Matt Damon is fantastic.
A manned mission to Mars and an astronaut is presumed dead after a major storm. How do they rescue him? It's a lot of detail, a lot of technical information (which is not my strong suit), but there's so much tension and so much humanity.
I read the book, which is not my thing at all - way too much detail (I'm a cut-to-the-chase kind of person) - and loved it.
Loved the film.
5 out of five stars for The Martian

Saoirse Ronan is luminous and expressive, and a reason to see this film, but she's mis-cast in the part of a frightened immigrant, who's all alone in a foreign country and out of her element. She never seemed frightened to me - in no time at all she's confident and sophisticated, so there's not much reason to root for her.
This film is getting great reviews but I found it slow, and the story contrived, and at least twenty minutes too long. A gratuitous sex scene (and don't get me wrong, I'm all for gratuitous sex) could have been cut - it was so completely uninteresting and unnecessary - and the entire set up to it. There's much to cut in this film.

Antman ****
Paul Rudd is so funny and appealing that you don't even care how stupid this premise is; a superhero who can shrink himself to the size of an ant. It's a fun film with great performances and a lot of heart.
4 stars out of 5 for Antman

November 10, 2015

Writing Tip: Editing is Like Housework

I'm an evangelist for having your manuscript edited. Crucial, if you're self-publishing. Here's another great article about the value of having a good editor.


Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done. Here are five reasons why professional editing is a necessity for your writing.

Novelists love stories and are often motivated to write by the effects a story can have on a reader. There’s a real power in being able to touch the emotions of someone, a stranger, who lives far away or even far in the future. Most writers have felt this long reach that words can have. It has changed their lives. It has made them writers. And what better reason is there to write than to inspire others to follow their dreams?
And yet, too many authors waste that opportunity. They confuse their reader with awkward phrasing, distract with careless typos, or turn off a potential buyer with a poor quality product.
A well-edited novel, on the other hand, will have that power to reach the reader. It will attract attention, seep into the reader’s thoughts and emotions, and might even cause them make a change, to make a tiny difference. And a good quality product will always sell better than a cheap fake.
If you’re not already convinced, here are five more reasons why you need professional editing for your novel:

1. Investing in a professional editor is money well-spent

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.
Professional editing is an indispensable, not just a desirable, part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make your good novel great, get readers talking, reach the ears of professional publishers, and catch the eye of movie producers. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterization, and not the problems with grammar. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating novel that could become tomorrow’s bestseller. In short, authors need editors.

2. Honest, objective feedback

Lots of authors ask friends and beta readers to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.
While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offense. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.
However, professional editors are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation, but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.
Like the author, editors want readers to focus on the narrative and not the misspelt words and absent apostrophes.

3. Editors work together with authors

Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.
But that’s unlikely to be enough.
Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.
Professional editors spend entire working days, even weeks or months, on a single novel. They work until they have a thorough understanding of the story. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in characters’ behavior, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.
None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring, or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets¬ – and keeps ¬– the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent, if that’s what the author wants.

4. An editor is a sounding board

Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognize aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.
In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. An editor takes a bird’s eye view of a novel, and can identify the elements that work and those that don’t and suggest the necessary changes. While editors often get to know authors well throughout the editing process, especially in the case of full, substantive editing, they are not concerned with your private life. They won’t be annoyed or flattered if they appear or not in the final version (although a credit is always nice).

October 16, 2015

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Maple-Glazed Salmon
Yield: 4 servings

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground ancho chile powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp brown sugar
1 T kosher salt
4 6-oz salmon fillets
olive oil
1 tsp maple syrup

  1. Prepare grill to about 450 degrees.
  2. Combine first 6 ingredients. Drizzle fish with olive oil, rub with paprika mixture.
  3. Place fish on grill rack; grill 7 minutes. Remove fish from grill and drizzle with syrup.
  4. Eat.

October 9, 2015

Theatre Review: Miss Buncle's Book ****

Lifeline Theatre loves literature. Their productions are adaptations of books that the ensemble members recommend, so Miss Buncle's Book is the perfect vehicle; it's a story of a woman who writes a novel and then writes another novel about a woman who writes a novel. Fun!
It is 1930s England, a small town full of colorful characters, and the townspeople have discovered a book written by someone named John Smith, a thinly disguised exposé of their town and each one of them.They are outraged as they realize this 'John Smith' is a traitor in their midst so they set out to find out who it is, never considering the unassuming and mousy Miss Buncle (Jennifer Tyler).
She wrote it, she tells her publisher, "To make money," so we know this is a fantasy, but lo and behold! it becomes a runaway best-seller (another fantasy!) because the townsfolk read it and talk about it and soon everyone's reading it and talking about it.
The rest of the play is about the transformation of some of the townspeople after learning about themselves through someone else's eyes, not least of whom is Miss Buncle herself.
The play would have benefited from a little more subtle direction, in my opinion. Some of the characters are a little campy for my taste, but Jennifer Tyler as Miss Buncle gives a wonderfully understated and engaging performance, her face telling as much of the story as her words.
All in all this is a well-done and clever presentation.
Four out of five stars for Miss Buncle's Book at Lifeline Theatre.

September 21, 2015

Book Review: Descent ***************

My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I'm not saying that's changed but I just finished Descent by Tim Johnston and this book absolutely blew me away, like no book has in a very long time.
The writing is gorgeous; unique descriptions, vivid images, emotion that poured from the page and wrapped around my heart. Tim Johnston is an amazing storyteller. This book is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. There were parts where my heart thumped wildly - I was so fearful of what was about to happen. There were parts where I was literally sobbing (I'm not kidding), there were parts where I was simply in awe of the writing.
The reason I read this book is that I saw Tim Johnston at the Writer's Digest Writers Conference. He was the closing keynote speaker and his speech was, for the most part, awful, at least in the beginning, peppered with "um's" and apologies (for not being able to forward his Power Point slides, for not practicing his speech, etc.), for forgetting what he was saying...but he was so real and so funny and so humble that I just didn't care how uncomfortable he seemed on stage.
His book Descent was a bestseller - his debut adult novel - and when the introducer enumerated his awards and accolades, I yawned. Everyone has awards, at least everyone at writers conferences. Everyone is a "best-selling" author, at least everyone at writers conferences.
But after his charmingly awkward keynote I got the Kindle sample of his book and was engaged enough to buy it. And I have to say, this is an amazing book, one of the best books I've read in years, and I've read a lot of great books.
It's a powerful piece of writing - the story unfolds beautifully, the characters grab your heart. I have to say I was a bit confused in the beginning - he has a tendency to use pronouns instead of names, so until I got into the story I wasn't sure who "he" or "she" was.
No matter. It wasn't long before I got so involved that I stayed up long into the night to read.
Read the synopsis on Amazon, I won't spend time here telling you what it's about - just trust me...READ THIS BOOK!

Many, many stars out of five for Tim Johnston's Descent.
I wish I could write like Tim Johnston.

September 18, 2015

The Reality of Being an Author

This article from author Kameron Hurley The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love 
couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm still smarting from St. Martin's Press's rejection of my second novel, The Ones You Left Behind.
I'm thrilled beyond measure that they published my first book, What More Could You Wish For, but they don't want book number two. Why not? Is it a lousy book? I don't think so (of course I don't). Is it a great book? Well...probably not, but it's decent and it's well-written, so I don't think that's the problem. More likely it's my numbers on book number one, which didn't sell well (and if I could make heads or tails of the statements they send me I could maybe tell you how many it actually sold) and that's probably the biggest factor.

Kameron Hurley says: I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?
The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).
Yes. It’s not missing a zero.
Take a breath and read that again.
But wait, there’s more!
The average traditionally published book which sells  3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.
That's kind of comforting to me. I was paid a $10,000 advance for my first book and I earned out of that advance before it was even published because they sold the rights to a German publisher who paid more money than my advance. So that was fantastic! And eventually I even got a small royalty check, but the bad news is I didn't earn out through book sales.
A time when you could find my book in a bookstore.
And St. Martin's Press is in the business of selling books.
My chances of selling more of book number two probably don't look promising to SMP, even though now I have a (small) audience, so why take a chance?
Discouraging? Yes, of course.
Add to that the fact that my agent isn't quite on board with book number two, although she likes my writing, but she's looking for more revisions. So what now?
I like it the way it is (not that it can't be improved); a quiet story about a woman's personal growth in the face of adversity. And, frankly, I'm a little sick of it after working on it and revising it for three years (not a terribly long time in the world of novel writing). So maybe it's just time to move on.
I've started book number three and am 10,000 words into it. So, (onlyabout 70,000 words to go.
It's a frustrating and disheartening business, this business of writing novels. I have always known that. It's even more frustrating now, from where I sit, feeling a little like I've failed.
But, my friend Barbara likes to remind me that I have a book that was published by St. Martin's Press, one of the biggest publishers in the world; I have written a second ENTIRE book; I am now working on a third; I can utter the phrase, "my publisher." Where's the failure in that?
After reading Kameron Hurley's article I feel better. I'm not alone here. I'm walking in the footsteps of many other authors - some wildly successful, some not, but most whose books will sell 3000 in their lifetime.
As Kameron Hurley says, the only thing I have control over is the words on the page.
If I quit writing, that failure is on me.
The Ones You Left Behind hasn't sold yet but that doesn't mean it won't. There are other publishers. And maybe it won't sell until I've sold book number three (which doesn't have a title yet).
And that's the sad truth about publishing. The bottom line is, I don't write because I think I will make a lot of money doing it (obviously!), I write because I love to write.

September 9, 2015

Book Review: The Arsonist *

I can't imagine why I finished this book. I normally give a book 50 pages and if I'm not engaged by
that time I move on. I was intrigued enough with The Arsonist at 50 pages to keep going, believing something would actually happen. And I had just finished The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller, which I loved, so I really wanted to like this. So I kept reading, hoping for some action, some revelation, some reason to slog through all the excruciatingly boring and distracting details. 
But none of that is there. There's no tension, no real conflict, no payoff.
You don't even find out ***SPOILER ALERT*** who the arsonist is.
About halfway through I began skipping huge narrative passages that I didn't care about and didn't need to know. But still, I kept reading. And when I finished, I couldn't have been happier. To be finished.

One star out of five for The Arsonist, I'm sad to say.

September 8, 2015

Book Review: The Lake Shore Limited *****

I love the varied characters in The Lake Shore Limited, the 9/11 component, the theme of trying to live up to expectations. I even love the play within the book, which shouldn't have worked for me, but did.
This is a story of the aftermath of 9/11; not about the particular victim in this case, but those left behind, and the emotion, the confusion, the realizations that follow.

Action is minimal in this story but the character studies are authentic and thought-provoking, and kept me wanting more.
I didn't want this book to end.
Five of five stars for The Lake Shore Limited.

September 3, 2015

Movie Review: Grandma ****1/2

Lily Tomlin couldn't be more perfect in the role of an irascible grandmother who has a ton of her own baggage, fighting to help her (baggage-laden) granddaughter out of a situation that brings back memories.
The first half of the movie is good, but when Sam Elliott comes into the picture it turns into a richer, more poignant story. The scene with Tomlin and Elliott tore at my heart. Tears rolled down my face, even though there was very little action on screen. Sam Elliott's performance is heart-wrenching.
It's a sweet story about a dysfunctional (is there any other kind?) family.
Four and a half stars out of five for Grandma.

Movie Review: Southpaw ***1/2

We've seen this story before; the champion boxer who has to deal with a tragedy, who's down on his luck and, against all odds, fights to regain his title.
But I liked Southpaw anyway. Mostly, for the performances. Jake Gyllenhaall is one of my favorites because he always delivers a solid performance. He does his best with this material, and there are a lot of flaws with the script. Forest Whitaker is, of course, a highlight, as is Rachel McAdams. I don't love the young actor who plays his daughter - her performance is too orchestrated for me, but she will tug at many heartstrings. Just not mine.
It's an entertaining couple of hours.
Three and a half stars out of five for Southpaw.

August 26, 2015

Movie Review: The End of the Tour *****

Beautifully done film about David Foster Wallace who, when he died in 2008, Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called, "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
How is it possible that I never heard of this guy?
Have you read his best-seller, Infinite Jest? I hadn't, until after I saw the film. Whatever is ground-breaking about his style, and this work, is beyond my understanding - I got nowhere with the book.
No matter, The End of the Tour is a really good film.
It's based on the book by David Lipsky, who interviewed Wallace for Rolling Stone, and who spent several days with Wallace as he toured to promote Infinite Jest.
Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg give great performances as the two writers, and it's a fascinating study of how their relationship developed and then deteriorated along with trust. Lipsky really liked Wallace, and wanted to be his friend, but he was a journalist after all, and so he wanted to write the truth. Where do you draw the line?
Five stars out of five for The End of The Tour.

August 25, 2015

Movie Review: A Walk in the Woods **

A better name for this movie would be A Snooze in the Woods.
I'm sure someone could write a script that would be a unique twist on two old guys having an adventure in the woods, but it's not the guys who wrote this one. There's nothing new here but there's a lot of borrowing from other films.
This is Wild meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid meets Sideways meets Dumb and Dumber.
I give it two stars; one for the scenery and one for Redford's hair.
Two stars out of five for A Walk in the Woods.

August 24, 2015

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton ****1/2

One thing I've learned, maybe the most valuable thing, is how easy it is to judge something or someone, and dismiss it/them for reasons you think are valid based on your experience. Or even based on nothing.
Don't feel bad. I've done it too.
I have very eclectic taste in music. I have always said I like everything, except rap music. The term, I always said, is an oxymoron.
Well, I've changed my mind. I'm adding rap music to my list.
Straight Outta Compton is a great film that gave me an understanding of what rap is all about. And even though I probably won't be purchasing any CDs or downloading any rap, I appreciate what it stands for. It comes from people unlike you and me (I know this because you're my friends) who live very different lives from ours.
But I digress. On to the movie review: Straight Outta Compton is 2-1/2 hours and I never looked at my watch. It's an engrossing account of the road to stardom for an unlikely group of kids who were by no means angels (and I'm sure the film downplays all the trouble they got into), and who caused a shift in the music industry and created a new genre of music. Their lyrics are from their life experience.
I would have liked a little more depth about how their music came to the attention of the public - the movie makes it seem that they just made their record and voila! it went viral. Well, not viral in those days, but you know where I'm going with this.
Regardless, I cared about each one of them and their relationship with each other; I was sad when they split up; scared when they got direction from a person they trusted who turned out to be crazy; tearful when Eazy-E died of AIDS before they have a chance for a reunion.
I was involved. I loved it.
I have one nit to pick. Eazy-E died in 1995, yet there's a scene of him in his house with a big flat-screen TV. They may have been around, but they didn't look like what we know today.
Minor point.
BTW, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. is fantastic in the part of Ice Cube, his dad.
4-1/2 out of 5 stars for Straight Outta Compton.

August 12, 2015

Movie Review: Ricki and the Flash **

I know it's sacrilege to say anything negative about Meryl Streep. But I'm going to, anyway.
I couldn't wait to see her new film, Ricki and the Flash, because I saw the trailer and thought it had to be so much fun. But if you've seen the trailer you've seen the best of this film, and you haven't had to sit through at least an hour of Meryl Streep singing.
I love that Streep sings, even though she's not that good. I love that she learned to play the guitar for this film (what can't she do?). I love that she and her daughter Mamie get to play mother and daughter.
That's all good.
What's not good is that everything else is too much in this film, beginning with a big, distracting rat's nest on the back of Mamie's head, just in case the sallow makeup didn't make it clear to us that she'd been so depressed that she hadn't showered or washed her hair. Too much. Wouldn't her mother comb that out before they left the house? And because we probably still didn't get the depth of her depression, she goes out to dinner in her pajamas and slippers.
See? Too much.
And then there's the singing, which is waaaaaay too much; this fictional band does at least six numbers. That'd be great if it were Paul McCartney or Taylor Swift (or even if we could hear more of Rick Springfield), but it's Meryl Streep. And while she's fine in this singing role (maybe 'passable' is a better word), she's not a great singer so one or two numbers would have gotten the point across, and would have been plenty. Instead of wasting so much time on mediocre singing, tell the damn story. Get into the characters so we can feel invested in them. Give us some history. Flesh them out. Give them some dimension. Don't put me to sleep.
And then there's Streep's performance, which is too much, which means the directing is too much. The usually subtle Meryl plays this role too big. It's so unlike her.
Oh, and those braids are too much.
On the plus side, Rick Springfield is great fun to look at, as is Kevin Kline, and both their performances are really good.

Two stars out of five for Ricki and the Flash.

August 3, 2015

What I Learned at the Writers Digest Annual Conference

Writer's Digest Annual Conference July 31-Aug. 2, 2015
Writer Unboxed panel
I've been to a gazillion writers conferences - all very different - and I love them. Even the bad ones are good (I've never really been to a bad one).
I love being in the company of so many writers all in one place; it's energizing and motivating, and writers are mostly really nice people.
Not every presentation I went to was worthwhile but I can usually get at least one thing out of each one (but sometimes not).
Here are some things I learned at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference:
  • All presentations are not created equal, and content is second to the personality of the presenter
  • You may have written 31 books and won every award known to man (except a Pulitzer), and still, half of the people in the audience will not have ever heard of you.                               ~Jacqueline Woodson  "Just keeping it real," she said.
  • Sometimes you can hear things you've heard a million times before but this time you hear it in a new way and it turns into an "Ah-hah!" moment.
  • Nothing sells your last book like your next book - keep writing!
  • Every author bio contains the phrase "best-selling, award-winning" (except mine)
  • The word "pantser" is inelegant and annoying, and someone needs to come up with a better term. Come on, people, we're writers...
  • Tim Johnston, closing keynote speaker, seemed to be winging his presentation, but he was fun and clever (a fine example of presentation trumping content), and he is, in fact, a New York Times bestselling author.
  • Carpet should not be used as baseboard (The Roosevelt Hotel, NYC)

July 26, 2015

Movie Review: Irrational Man **

No, that image at left is not from Irrational Man, it's how I felt while watching it.
Oh my god. THE most boring movie.
It's an unconvincing story of a depressed college professor who finds his zest for life in planning the perfect murder. Joaquin Phoenix's character is the anchor of the story, but he isn't invested in his character or his lines; he seems barely able to remember them. Emma Stone and Parker Posey are the reasons I didn't walk out - they make the film come alive when they're on screen. But that's not nearly enough.
Two out of five stars for Irrational Man. And that's generous.

July 22, 2015

As You Get Older...

Older singles lose millions in online dating scams

screams the headline on CBS This Morning.

The story is about a 76-yr-old lady who is looking for love. She meets a guy online (on the very first day she goes on the site!) who "said sweet things and was very charming." She never meets him in person but they communicate by email and phone for four months. Then, all of a sudden he's stuck somewhere in Africa and becomes very ill and has to have a kidney transplant   that's costing $4000/month  and the next thing you know the sweet little old lady is out $300K.
The lady is trying to get her money back from (good luck with that). She thinks they're responsible.
I might have some sympathy for her if she'd sent him $1,000 or $2,000, or even $10,000 before she realized it was a scam. But $300,000?
Barbara Hannah Grufferman
The news report's expert is Barbara Hannah Grufferman, who they say is "with" AARP. I can't find any indication that she does anything other than write for AARP. She's a journalist and wrote a book called The Best of Everything Over 50, but as far as I can tell she is not an expert on aging. On this report she makes this ridiculous and insulting statement:
"As we get older our ability to decipher deceit declines."
I'm not an expert on aging either (unless you count my firsthand experience) but my bullshit meter is working just fine. And, taking Alzheimer's or any other type of dementia out of the equation (because that's a whole other issue), my 'expert' opinion is: If you are this gullible when you're old, you were this gullible when you were young. Age has nothing to do with this kind of stupidity.

July 20, 2015

Movie Review: Trainwreck ***1/2

If I were rating Amy Schumer she'd get five stars; she's so charming and funny and her face tells stories even when not saying a word. She's a surprisingly terrific actor and a very appealing on-screen presence.
But I'm rating the film, so it's a star and a half less than that.
What I really like about Trainwreck is its humor and sweetness and relate-ability, and how heartwarming it is. And LeBron James. Who knew he could act? I found myself waiting for him to come back on screen.
What I don't like about Trainwreck are the sophomoric bits that feel like a stand-up comedy routine and go on too long - like the tampon bit, for one. They aren't needed, they slow down the action and they distract from the heart of the film.
If they'd cut this film the way it should have been cut, by at least 20 minutes, I'd have given it four and a half stars. As it is, there's much to enjoy about Trainwreck but I can only give it three and a half stars out of five.

July 17, 2015

Book Review: Old Souls at Night by Kent Haruf *****

When I began reading Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, one of my favorite authors, I felt sad on a number of levels, not least of which is that this is his final novel, as he died last December at 71. I hadn't known he was sick and his death broke my heart.
I felt sad because the characters in Our Souls at Night are sweet and familiar, even though I hadn't read about these people yet, but Haruf had a way of creating characters I could see clearly in my mind, even though he
doesn't describe them to any great degree.
Is this his best work? No. But it's a sweet story of old love with characters that feel real, like people you'd want to be friends with.
I was sad because the story is sad, I was sad because I didn't want the book to end. I'm sad because I already miss the work Kent Haruf will never write.
Kent Haruf is one of America's finest authors. If you haven't read his work start with Plainsong and then read everything else he's ever written. And finally, end with Our Souls at Night, a sweet goodbye.
Five out of five stars for Our Souls at Night.

July 14, 2015

Traveling to Montreal

Walking up to Mount Royal
Montreal is a taste of Europe without the eight hour plane ride; lovely architecture, great food, beautiful port, French speakers...
View from Mount Royal
Mount Royal Chalet
Top of Mount Royal

Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Notre Dame
See more pictures here.